Las Vegas: Mob Museum Tells Story of America’s Underworld

Courtroom exhibit; images by Jeff Green

Dancing fountains, pyramids, iconic European landmarks, and hourly erupting volcanoes all have their place in Las Vegas. But to understand Sin City’a place in the world –– and how it got there –– the new Mob Museum is an informative place to start.

With three floors and 17,000 thousand square-feet of exhibit space of “mob-rabilia,” the newly opened Mob Museum showcases organized crime’s far-reaching impact across the country, and its special relationship with Las Vegas. The building occupies the former U.S. Post Office and courthouse, and is listed on the National Register of Historic Places.

The $42 million facility features state-of-the-art interactive exhibits highlighting the ways of infamous gangsters, such as Al Capone, Ben “Bugsy” Siegel, Charlie “Lucky” Luciano, Sam Giancana, John Gotti and their associates. One highlight is a bullet-riddled brick wall that was imported from the site of the Valentine’s Day Massacre in Chicago to serve as a backdrop for a movie depicting the 1929 event. (Now that’s interactive storytelling.)

And like any good source for drama, the museum also includes stories about the good guys who brought them down.

The museum immediately sets a law-and-order tone, as visitors are directly ushered into a police line up, with the pre-recorded arresting sergeant barking orders from behind two-way glass.

The opening exhibit traces the origins of organized crime in the U.S., and how the advent of Prohibition provided new revenue streams, as the mob was instrumental in “giving people what they wanted.”

The focal point of the Mob Museum is the federal courthouse on the second floor, the actual scene of many mob trials, as well as the 1950 famous racketeering hearings held by Sen. Estes Kefauver, D-Tenn.At the time, these televised hearings captivated the nation, and were considered by many to be the first true “TV event.”

Other distinct museum highlights include “Mob Mayhem,” an exploration of the violence inherent in organized crime; “The Skim,” an examination of the profits-skimming that occurred back when the mob controlled casinos; and “Bringing Down the Mob,” an exhibit that focuses on wiretapping used to bring the mobsters to justice, where you wear headphones and listen in on all the incriminating juicy bits.

On the first floor, the law enforcement simulation area allows visitors to safely unpack some heat while chasing down bad guys with a real .38 pistol (unloaded, of course). You can “wing” the “perp” in the leg, but watch out –– he may take another unexpected shot at you. Guests are invited to participate in other interactive exhibits, such as “spot the casino scam” while watching four closed circuit TV screens simultaneously. Not an easy task, trust me.

The Mafia’s role in pop culture also gets its proper due. “The Myth of the Mob” features a short film narrated by author and screenwriter Nicholas Pileggi. The author Casino, Wiseguy, the book that inspired Goodfellas). Pileggi describes how the mob has provided counteless compelling tales to Hollywood that need no embellishment to make it to the screen.

A stone’s throw from Fremont Street and the heart of Old Las Vegas, the museum offers an insider’s view into a gangster’s paradise. There’s no need to lawyer up –– just be sure you know who your friends are.



3 replies on “Las Vegas: Mob Museum Tells Story of America’s Underworld”

  1. Yet another useful, concise piece here on City Traveler. Kudos to the editors and Ms. Cimini! Must say, though, that I’m disappointed that this museum ignores the just-as-compelling gangster cultures of other ethnic groups. What about the Irish, Jewish and Latvian mobs?

  2. Have you ever heard of Buddenger. Story is he was one of Al Caopne’s men. My family owened a cottage at Long Lake, Traverse Michigan where he was a previous owner. Please let me know

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